Do you want to successfully cross the border between Argentina and Paraguay?
So there are various ways to cross the border between Argentina and Paraguay – I went from Puerto Iguazu, ARGENTINA to Ciudad del Este, PARAGUAY. Back in December 2010. Although looking back, this border crossing seemed easy compared to others I’ve passed through, there is still a need to be careful, read on and I’ll tell you exactly what I did. This was one of the strangest border crossings I have ever done, for the reason that in the space of 45 minutes I was in three countries!! Confused? Yes it confused me a bit…this is the first of a series of reports on crossing world borders from my travels…
To start with you should board a bus at the bus station in Puerto Iguazu – the bus will have Paraguay as the destination on it. The bus is yellow and says El Practico on it. They leave quite often during the day. I went early Sunday morning. I’m not sure if you can buy tickets in advance, but check out of your hostel or hotel in Puerto Iguazu the town and head to the bus station – the main bus station in Puerto Iguazu. I would say do this early morning – as I’m not sure if the border is open at night – nor if it would be safe to risk.
I was on my own and I was basically wanting to get across into Paraguay and then onwards to Asuncion.
Ciudad del Este, the current name for this Paraguayan city, which is The City of The East, is on the other side of the river to Argentina. The river is the border, and the bridge is the most common crossing. As this is a post about the border crossing, I won’t talk about other stuff but I had already been to the triple border of Tres Fronteras (the point where you can see all three countries). It gets confusing when you realise that your bus to Paraguay goes VIA BRAZIL.
So the cost is 5 Argentine Pesos for the bus and I asked the driver to tell if he would stop at the border for me so I could get my passport stamped. I was the only traveller on the bus that wasn’t from either Paraguay, Argentina or Brazil. Those 3 countries have some kind of visa agreement with each other that means they don’t require visas (or in some cases passport stamps) to cross the border.
I actually thought that a lot of “backpackers” (I don’t like that term, but I guess I probably am one…) would be going on the route from Iguazu across the border into Paraguay next to see Ituapu Dam and the famous Jesuit Ruins at Trinidad. But I spoke to lots of people at the hostel (the wonderful Hostel Inn Iguazu Falls) and none of them were going to Paraguay. A few of them even said to me “why are you going there?”! That kind of statement that makes me realise that some of us are made to be travellers and some are just not. An avid traveller will always go anywhere, anytime and often for no reason. Someone who is not an avid traveller will be more fussy about where they go. I am not – I will go anywhere. In any case there were no other “backpackers” on my bus or in the station that morning.
When you travel in South America you should have some kind of knowledge of Spanish at least (I actually studied in Montevideo but my Spanish is still shocking) so you can chat to locals and bus drivers. Once I saw the “queue for Paraguay” developing, I joined it, bag laden to the core and sweaty. But I had my passport in hand and had already all of my money changed into Paraguayan Guarani. This is important – make sure you change ALL your Argentine Pesos (except for the price of the bus) over into Paraguayan Guarani in Puerto Iguazu. You can do this anytime in daylight hours, even on a Sunday morning – I found a small bank/exchange place in town open around 9am to got mine changed in there.
After boarding the bus you head out of the town of Puerto Iguazu to the border bridge into Brazil. Brazil? Yes! don’t be worried at this point as you are still on the bus to Paraguay! At the Argentina exit customs place you have to ensure you ask your driver to let you out to get your passport stamped. Most of your fellow passengers on the bus won’t need to get off – on my trip they were mostly locals.
Get off the bus, grab your bags and get your passport stamped and straight back on the bus. Then the bus will cross the Iguazu River into Brazil. But the bus will not stop at the Brazilian border control. The driver of the bus does this route all the time and the sign on the front of the bus tells you that you are heading to “Paraguay Directo” (directly to Paraguay). You have arrived officially in Brazil, but with no proof of it as you are in transit on a bus!
We drive through the city of Foz Do Iguacu, you can read many more of my reports on the actual waterfalls and my first trip across into Brazil. By the way, it’s safe to assume that by taking this route you’ll most likely have just seen the amazing Iguazu Falls!
After 20 minutes or so in Brazil on the bus you arrive at a crazy bridge. Again you see a border checkpoint here, but we by pass it. It’s the Brazilian border point. Your eyes will remind you that your were in Brazil for 20 minutes, your passport will not. There is no need to get your passport stamped at either Brazil passport checkpoint, BUT once your bus gets onto the bridge, Keep your eyes peeled for the Paraguay entrance border checkpoint. Why? Because the driver won’t stop there, but you need to tell him to stop there for you.
Unfortunately when you tell the driver to stop and you get out, he won’t wait for you as the passengers onboard Don’t want to hang around waiting for a gringo to get their passport stamped. You get out and are immediately in the madness of Ciudad del Este, while your bus continues on its route.
It is not recommended to cross this border by foot by the way, mainly because of robberies and safety issues. For the sake of 5 Pesos you might as well get the bus. I had to run to the front of the bus and yell at the driver to stop, this was a few kilometres ahead of the checkpoint. I had assumed he was stopping soon. SO I had to get out on my own. I asked him if he would wait and when I realised he wouldn’t, then I had to grab both my bags. This was my arrival into Paraguay!
OK so I was now in Paraguay but I still had to find the place to get my entry stamp on my passport – and it was far from obvious – at the back of a building site on the Paraguayan side of the bridge. I actually wish I had made a video of my trip that morning – looking back it was just madness!. It was hot, busy, stuffy and I was bag laden, lonely, lost and inspired! Luckily within a few minutes I arrived in the passport immigration place and obviously I was the only person in there. They stamped my entry quickly and it was easy here I was in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay! In the previous hour I had now been “in” three countries. Though I had no proof of my Brazilian bus journey (save for a video I took!).
I can’t promise you that this is the simplest way across the border into Paraguay from Brazil (or Argentina) but I loved it partly because I was the only real traveller about. I could tell instantly that Ciudad del Este was a crazy city. Lots of locals asked me if I wanted to buy stuff. You can stay a night or two in this border city known as Ciudad del Este if you want but I had no time to linger as I wanted to get to Asuncion fairly quickly.
I got a taxi from opposite the Immigration Office – the driver may even have ripped me off but he took me to the bus station in Ciudad del Este for a fee of a few US Dollars (thousands of Guarani by the way). This huy was just hanging around beside his car for a tourist like me. Agree a price first. You can normally trust these guys.
I hope my new series of border crossings will be useful for my fellow travellers. I’d love to know if others have done the same border crossings as me and had similar experiences.
If you want more amazing tips on crossing world borders and popular travel tips and stories, check out Jonny Blair’s awesome travel and lifestyle website Dont Stop Living Happy travels and don’t stop living!